Posted: Sunday, September 4, 2016 10:41 am | Updated: 10:46 am, Sun Sep 4, 2016.
Photo: Hong Kong — Pro-democracy candidate Tam Tak-chi, right, of People Power waves to supporters near a polling station to vote for the legislative council election Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016.
HONG KONG (AP) — Voters turned out in force Sunday for Hong Kong’s most crucial election since the handover from Britain in 1997, the outcome of which could pave the way for a fresh round of political confrontations over Beijing’s control of the city.
The vote for Legislative Council lawmakers will test the unity of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, with a new generation of radical activists joining the race after emerging in the wake of 2014 pro-democracy street protests.
They’re hoping to ride a rising tide of anti-China sentiment as they challenge formidably resourced pro-Beijing rivals for seats. Many of the newcomers back the previously unthinkable idea of independence for Hong Kong, which has added to divisions with the broader pro-democracy movement and overshadowed the election. Last month, officials disqualified six pro-independence candidates in an attempt to tamp down the debate, though other candidates with similar views made the cut.
Hong Kongers feel they have few other negotiating tactics left in their battle for genuine democracy as Beijing takes an increasingly hard-line stance.
“It’s bleak, but I think if China doesn’t leave us to do what we want, I think the only way is to fight for independence,” Aron Yuen, a 34-year-old college lecturer, said as he stood in line with about 100 other people to cast their ballots. “You can’t negotiate with somebody who doesn’t keep their promise.”
Yuen planned to vote for 23-year-old Nathan Law, who, along with teen activist Joshua Wong, helped lead the 2014 protests. Their party, Demosisto, advocates a referendum on “self-determination” of Hong Kong’s future.
Voters were choosing from among 84 lists of candidates to fill 35 seats in a complex system of geographic constituencies that makes results, expected Monday, hard to predict.
At stake is the power to keep the city’s widely unpopular Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, and his government in check. “Pan-democrat” lawmakers currently control 27 of 70 seats, compared with 43 held by lawmakers friendly to Beijing. The democrats are fighting to keep control of at least a third of the seats, which gives them veto power to block government attempts to enact unpopular legislation, including a renewed attempt to enact Beijing’s controversial election revamp that triggered the 2014 street protests.
The risk is that the pro-democracy vote will be split, allowing pro-Beijing candidates to take more seats and removing a major hurdle for the government’s proposals, which in turn could lead to a new round of political confrontations.
Turnout appeared to be higher than average, with long lines of people still waiting to cast ballots at some polling stations by the time voting was supposed to end. Some 52.6 percent of nearly 3.8 million registered voters had turned out an hour before polls closed, matching the total turnout for the previous election four years ago. Turnout in the 2008 election was 45.2 percent, according to the government’s website.
Earlier Sunday, a small group of protesters demanded Leung step down outside a polling station where he cast his vote.
“Our election is a democratic election,” Leung told reporters.
“The democracy in the election is reflected by the free choice of voters, they do not need to be told who to vote (for),” he said when asked his thoughts on how results would be affected after seven candidates with low support, most of them pro-democracy, suspended their campaigns at the last minute in a bid to consolidate votes for others.
Hong Kong has been the scene of increasingly bitter political turmoil since the last legislative election in 2012. The growing calls for independence highlight frustration among residents, especially young people, who are chafing under Beijing’s tightening hold. A spate of incidents, including the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who later resurfaced in detention in mainland China, has aroused fears that Beijing is reneging on its promise of wide autonomy for Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” framework.
Follow Kelvin Chan on Twitter at twitter.com/chanman
His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/kelvin-chan
‘Strategic’ voting scheme has Hong Kong’s pan-democrats on the brink
Benny Tai’s controversial plan, which listed recommended candidates based on pre-polling, blamed for putting several veterans at risk
Cyd Ho says Benny Tai’s a candidate for the 2016 Legislative Council General Election candidates urged for vote at Causeway Bay — ThunderGo scheme was damaging, and that people should not vote based on results of an inaccurate poll. 04SEP16 SCMP /Photo: Edward Wong
Several veteran pan-democrats last night appeared to be on the brink of defeat – an outcome which could lead to one-man bands for their grassroots parties, or their parties not even having a presence in the legislature.
These candidates blamed a controversial strategic voting scheme that presented a different picture of their standing from other polls and which did not recommend them to voters.
One of them, Labour Party’s Cyd Ho Sau-lan, called an emergency press conference yesterday announcing the “dangerous” situation that she faces in her Hong Kong Island constituency.
She said the strategic voting initiative, devised by Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting, was “unreasonable” after it released on Saturday night a list of recommended pan-democratic candidates, based on pre-polling. She was excluded from the list.
“ThunderGo is damaging,” Ho said, referring to Tai’s scheme. “People should not vote based on results of an inaccurate poll. We believe that the poll was dominated by radicals.”
Ho said another poll, done by the Hong Kong Research Association, showed she had been ranking above Demosisto’s Nathan Law Kwun-chung, whom ThunderGo recommended instead.
When announcing the details of his scheme on Friday, Tai expected 25,000 voters would participate. They would indicate their preferences on an interactive poll via Telegram and would be informed of the popularity of candidates the day before the official vote, and then 21/ 2 hours before it closed. Such “smart voters” would withhold their votes until 8pm and then vote for those whose numbers are weaker.
Ho’s colleague Lee Cheuk-yan was also excluded from the Saturday recommendations but he was on the to-vote-for list last night.
Lee had not done well either in another poll, conducted by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme. He ranked 10th in New Territories West, which had nine seats up for grabs. “This campaign has been the toughest in my career,” the unionist veteran admitted. “There have never been so many non-establishment squads in the battlefield.”
Ma Ngok, a political scientist at the Chinese University, said Lee’s party might become a one-man band if he and Ho lost, with their colleague Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung having a good chance of winning as he had done well in the polls.
Also facing difficulties in New Territories West was Frederick Fung Kin-kee, who was the lone lawmaker of the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood. Fung doubted the accuracy of Tai’s plan, saying his supporters, mostly in the grassroots, were less likely to respond to the electronic poll.
There would be a change in Legco’s outlook if Ho, Lee and Fung – and super-seat candidate Leung Yiu-chung – all lost.
“After all, these veterans come from parties that focus the most on district work and grassroots interests,” Ma said. He also noted that ThunderGo was “making many candidates nervous – even the potential winners”.
Jeremy Tam Man-ho, who had topped other opinion polls previously, ended up issuing an emergency appeal last night.
The Civic Party candidate in Kowloon East said about one-third of supporters he approached yesterday had chosen someone else at the polls because they thought he had “enough” votes already. People’s misunderstanding of the voting tactic could result in his defeat, he said.
In the other camp, not all pro-Beijing candidates were feeling confident of their campaign. The Federation of Trade Unions’ (FTU) Tang Ka-piu also issued an “emergency call on all fronts”. Tang, running in New Territories East, had faced strong competition from New People’s Party newbie Eunice Yung Hoi-yan as some of the pro-Beijing camp’s troops had been mobilised to back the latter.
Tang’s colleague Kwok Wai-Keung, running in Hong Kong Island, also complained his votes were “being taken away” by others. In Chai Wan, FTU honorary president Cheng Yiu-tong said its candidates faced a similar issue.
“There are lots of rumours about us having enough votes already, but they are not true … I hope voters can see that our opponents are independence advocates, while we are truly the voice of employees,” he said.
Tags: abductions, abour Party, Anti-Beijing, anti-China sentiment, Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, Beijing-backed leader, Benny Tai, Chai Wan, Cheng Yiu-tong, Demosisto, Eunice Yung Hoi-yan, Federation of Trade Unions, Frederick Fung Kin-kee, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, FTU, Hong Kong, Hong Kong booksellers, Hong Kong election, Hong Kong Legco elections, Hong Kong Research Association, Hong Kong’s Pan Democrats, human rights, Joshua Wong, Legislative Council General Election, Leung Chun-ying, Nathan Law, New Territories West, pro-democracy, pro-independence, referendum on self determination, right of self determination, Tang Ka-piu